Stonewalling is when someone shuts you down from communicating. He just “bails” on your efforts at communication, refuses to take you seriously; refuses to engage a discussion of your concerns.
He may ignore or dismiss you, express fatigue with you (and your concerns); he may listen without offering a thoughtful, respectful response, and then credit himself for having listened, perhaps even listened at a length he may complain about.
In any case his unthoughtful, lazy, dismissive, or flat-out non-response to your feelings and concerns captures the essence of stonewalling and will reflect his pure contempt for which he’ll take no responsibility.
Rather, he may depict you as a boring windbag who doesn’t know when to “stop talking,” or who’s always making or looking for “trouble,” without recognizing or owning how his insistent refusal to listen, his determination NOT to listen, actually provokes, passive-aggressively, your very instinct to “talk” and “pursue him” until he gives a meaningful response.
He may flat-out tell you he’s bored by, and uninterested in, the concerns you raise, regardless of how strongly you feel about them, and regardless of how strong your need to discuss them is. It may be that the more urgency you feel to broach your concerns, the more he’ll contemptuously stonewall you.
When your concerns pertain to the relationship itself, his rebuff will feel especially cruel and leave you feeling especially helpless. It will also very likely be dripping with some form of passive-aggressive, if not aggressive, contempt.
Now this is stonewalling, and stonewalling is a nasty, hurtful thing to do to someone; it leaves the stonewalled party feeling as negated as a person can feel.
You don’t have to be a sociopath to stonewall. Plenty of non-sociopaths stonewall. But many sociopaths are stonewallers, and the act of stonewalling itself, especially when it’s intentional, often contains the cold, callous attitude of the sociopath.
The stonewaller’s absence of empathy for the stonewalled party, perhaps even the relish the stonewaller takes in messing with the stonewalled party’s head, in watching her twist and squirm and perhaps make humiliating efforts and bids to be heard—there can be something actually sadistic about this.
Stonewalling will tend to elicit some common feelings in the stonewalled party—among them shame, anger, rage, infuriation, humiliation, desperation (to be heard), helplessness, and a sense of being driven crazy.
Stonewalling, then, is a form of “gaslighting” insofar as it can leave the stonewalled party feeling as if she’s speaking a foreign language inaccessible to the stonewaller even though she knows perfectly well the stonewaller speaks the language, literally, but either refuses to speak it or “acts” like he doesn’t.
This can have a “crazy-making” effect, as if he’s accusing her (as he may very well do) of speaking incomprehensibly.
Stonewallers, whether sociopaths or not, are seriously disturbed communicators. Their indifference to the stonewalled party’s experience, as noted, can be chilling. Their stonewalling often reflects character pathology, in which case they won’t change—they will always be stonewallers.
Stonewallers are destructive partners whom it’s best to avoid, and even leave, for your sanity’s and dignity’s sake. I make this strong suggestion in cases where the stonewaller refuses to assume total and genuine responsibility for his stonewalling, which is not always, but too often is, the case.
You need to stop banging your head against the “wall” (the pun is apt) trying to reach the stonewaller, because he is not reachable. Futility is what you are left feeling again and again, until you feel depressed and hopeless. The futility is not in your head. It is real, and will always be the experience with the stonewaller, who disowns responsibility for the suffering his stonewalling causes you.
Identify the stonewalling partners in your life; if they can’t, or won’t, take charge of their stonewalling, get them out of your life as best, completely and fast as you can.
(This article is copyrighted © 2012 by Steve Becker, LCSW. My use of the male gender pronoun was strictly for convenience’s sake and not to imply that females aren’t equally capable of the behaviors and attitudes discussed.)